Castine, Maine, named by Yankee Magazine as one of the “10 Prettiest Coastal Towns in Maine,” is a quaint and historic seaside village on Penobscot Bay with more than 400 years of history to explore. The town is on the National Historic Register and home to the Maine Maritime Academy, Dyce Head Lighthouse, several historic military forts, and much more. Best of all, it’s only a little over a half an hour’s drive from our Searsport bed and breakfast and the perfect destination for a daytrip.
Castine, Maine is one of the oldest towns not just in the state but in all New England. How old? It was founded in 1613 by Claude de Saint-Etienne de la Tour as a small, coastal trading post. That’s seven years before the colony at Plymouth, for those keeping score.
Castine’s unique charm is undeniable. Historic homes and churches populate tree lined streets. More than 100 historic markers located around town highlight points of interest and there are plenty of shops and restaurants to investigate.
On the Road to Castine Maine
Castine is just a short drive from Captain Nickels Inn: only a little over a half hour away. For those who like to get an early start, breakfast at the inn is served from 7:30 to 9am and will help to get your day off to a great start.
Head northeast out of town on Main Street/US-1 and follow this to the magnificent Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory, open May 1st to October 31st, is the tallest in the world, at 420 feet in height, and provides unbelievably expansive and eye-popping views. The bridge observatory is also home to the Fort Knox, Maine’s largest historic fort and dating back to 1844.
After you’ve had a chance to take in the spectacular views of the Penobscot River and Bay at the bridge, continue NE along US-1 to the Castine Road/ME-166 turn off; about 5 miles. Stay on ME-166 as it takes you south along the Orland and Penobscot rivers and eventually to historic Castine, Maine.
History buffs will find plenty to interest them in Castine as history is quite literally everywhere you look. Although tourism is the town’s current claim to fame, its once strategic position at the mouth of the Penobscot River had the British, French, and Dutch fighting over it until 1820.
Historic homes and churches line the elm-shaded streets and more than 100 markers highlight historic points of interest all around town. The Castine Post Office, for example, is the oldest continuously-operating post office in the United States.
Visitors to the Wilson Museum will enjoy exhibits on local history, ship models, the pre-revolutionary John Perkins House, a blacksmith shop, and more. The Castine Historical Society, located in a restored schoolhouse, also houses historical artifacts, including a 24-foot long community quilt that tells Castine’s story through pictures.
Castine is also home to historic military fortifications. Fort George, built by the British in 1779, was the last fort surrendered by the British at the end of the Revolutionary War. The State Park features partially restored fort battlements and seven acres to explore and enjoy.
Fort Madison, named for President James Madison, was established in 1808. The fort was captured by the British during the War of 1812 and remained under their control until 1815. Fort Madison was rebuilt by Union forces in 1863 during the U.S. Civil War, then abandoned in 1865. Grass bunkers are all that remains of Fort Madison today but the park’s scenic location at the mouth of the harbor makes it a wonderful picnic spot.
More Than History To Explore
Castine is a small town but there’s enough fun and adventure to keep you happily busy all day.
Hungry? Looking to do some window shopping? Main Street slopes down towards the sea and is home to a variety of excellent dining and shopping options.
You might not guess that Castine is a college town, but it is. The Maine Maritime Academy, one of the best public colleges in the North, calls Castine home. The TS State of Maine, the Maine Maritime Academy’s 500-foot naval research ship, is located at the town dock and absolutely worth a visit.
Lighthouse fans will be happy to learn that Castine is also home to the 1828 Dyce Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is not open to the public, but the grounds are open during the day.
If relaxing on a Maine beach is on your wish list, check out Backshore Beach. Protected by Wadsworth Cove, Backshore Beach has a smooth, pebbly sand beach and a gentle surf to enjoy. It’s also an excellent place for gorgeous sunsets.
Looking to get some kayaking in? Great idea! Penobscot Bay and the Bagaduce River Watershed both offer smooth and gentle flowing waters ideal for kayaking. Local outfitters offer gear rental as well as scenic tours. You can also get out on the water via a variety of boat tours.
Castine’s Witherle Woods preserve offers 4.2 miles of trails for hiking and, in the winter, cross-country skiing. The area is also very bike-friendly with plenty of bike rentals available: a lovely way to tour Castine.
Home Again, Home Again
Once you’re done exploring the area, it’s just a short drive back to your Maine coast home away from home, Captain Nickels Inn. Back home at the inn, there’s nothing like reviewing the day’s fun over some small bites and a drink in the Captain Nickels Inn 1874 Tavern.
Updated March 2023